Why Buy the Shop When You Can Get the Work for Free?

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And you thought speed dating was just for those who can't even find a partner online, a two-hour event designed to remind a person that sometimes staying single is better than the alternative?

Apparently it's a good way for an agency to pick a pro bono client. Maureen Hall, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Woodbine, was so over the request-for-proposal process that she decided to have potential pro bono clients compete against each other for a chance to win 200 hours of advertising services. Hall isn't the first to compare new-business pitches to what she calls the "horrors of dating," but she might be the first to set up a speed-dating contest—dubbed "Dating for a Cause"—to pick new business.

The agency started out with an online compatibility survey. Unlike eHarmony's two-day, exam-like questionnaire that weeds out gays, atheists and separated people, Woodbine asked only 10 questions. Fifty organizations signed up. The agency narrowed that field and invited 25 matches to "break out the Binaca" and join it for speed dating. Said Hall: "My mama always said, 'Carry breath mints in your purse, honey, but don't kiss until the third date.' So we ran the winner through at least three dates, from the online survey to the speed date and follow-up questions." Apparently several of those in the running also sent love letters and flowers to Rob Niccolai, managing director of the Charlotte office.

The lucky winner: Community School of the Arts, which was proposed to by the agency with a Ring Pop (sooo much cheaper than a Tiffany ring!). Obviously a progressive bunch, the Community School wasn't turned off by Woodbine's demanding nature and upfront attitude and gladly accepted the proposal.

The leader of the school, Andi Stevenson, said, "I know that they'll push us outside of our comfort zone and would never let us get away with saying 'That's how we've always done it,' and we need that kind of partner." (Sounds like my fiancée. She's always pushing me outside my comfort zone—or at least out of the bed!)

Hall added that her mom was also a fan of another dating phrase: "Why should they buy the cow when they can milk it for free?"

"I'm not sure that last one is very appropriate," she said, "but I guess it's like offering pro bono work."
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